'Becoming a giant'
With talk of a London revival of 'R'Otello - the rugby opera' in 2017,
Creative Director Sani Muliaumaseali'i gives background to the journey of this groundbreaking work from concept to controversy - both on and off the stage.
'We all imagine a better life for ourselves’
'R’Otello' ACT 1
Realizing R’Otello the rugby opera from the space in my head to the performance space in my suburb was an exercise in patience and determination. The labour of love brought to a sports hall on Battersea estate in early Autumn 2015, a full scale operatic event. The operas Otello, Carmen and Tosca meet at the Rugby World Cup (R in R’Otello = Rugby) and the main focus of the piece was the fate of the female protagonists who all perish at the hands of men. The tag line was ‘kicking perceptions of opera into touch where nothing gets lost in the music’ R’Otello focuses on the unpalatable truth of domestic violence inherent in each opera. Rugby was chosen as the backdrop for the piece to coincide with Rugby World Cup currently happening in the UK. Domestic violence rates skyrocket win or lose during sporting events such as the global rugby tournament.
Game plan: PLOT
Otello captain’s the Samoan national team into the Rugby World cup final. Best friend Iago has been sidelined for some time due to bad form. Replacing him as Otello’s wing man is golden boy Tasio who is of nobleTongan descent. Otello is married to Mona also aTongan noble. A vindictive and jealous Iago manipulates all three to a tragic end. Carmen is a Nurse who tends to an injured French rugby player DJ. An aspiring singer Carmen wins a competition run by drag queen superstar Tosca and the sadistic Baroness Scarpia. The prize is singing at the Rugby World Cup final. Tosca suffers a breakdown, Carmen takes over, but a deranged Don Jose ends Carmen's shot at fame with one foul swoop. All the protagonists qualify for the final but tragically none of them actually make it. A piece about possessive partners, wilful and maligned women emerges underpinning the lyricism of the great composers.
‘I've been to an opera before and I lasted ten minutes - I stayed for the whole thing tonight - it was awesome. " audience member.
The fusion of the three tragedies through contemporary narrative and dialogue, infused with electronic underscoring compels the audience to bare full witness to events.
The extemporaneous monologues filmed and live - jar the action perilously close to home, this coupled with the placing of the audience, orchestra, and players on on a level playing field facilitates authentic connection to message. People felt like they were part of the action: indeed as a society we are all part of the action - but no one wants to talk about it. ROtello forces us to confront this uncomfortable reality prompting responses such as ‘I've been to an opera before and I lasted ten minutes - I stayed for the whole thing tonight - It was awesome. " said an audience member.
images by Foteini Christofilopolou
I looked at contemporary life and sought where in society these tragedies were occurring. It seems everywhere. Rich, poor, middle class - no class - domestic violence hovers.
Tackling Shakespeare, Boito, Halévy, Illica etc was never going to be a walk in the park. However, I knew enough about the operas to not be terrified by the prospect of a mash up and reinterpretation. I was often warned off by colleagues given the magnitude of the undertaking, yet I never saw R’Otello as being anything other than story telling: One story, one woman, and one opera at a time.
I looked at contemporary life and sought where in society these tragedies were occurring. It seems everywhere. Rich, poor, middle class - no class - domestic violence hovers. My research took me to places that I had no business going to nor do I have any wish return. But each visit would result in a testimony that punctuated the operatic excerpts into a confronting reality. I looked at how we as society condone violence from the cradle upwards e.g ' Womens walk' focuses on video games that glorify violence against women. Each time a woman is harmed she is ascribed points. The most points wins the game. Nothing getting lost in the music.
R’Otello was put together in 68hours. Outside commitments i.e full time work by members and everyones availability meant this was all the time we had. We had a very, very limited budget - we received none of arts funding for which we applied - yet we produced a work that would rival the most lavish of budgets and timelines. Our lighting god Dominic Warwick was instrumental in achieving something quite special given constraints. In a perfect and well funded world we’d have had hundred of hours to create in: We had none of the above. But what we have in abundance is heart. Everyone gave generously of their time and Art for R’Otello. The Verdi was majestically played by Wandsworth Symphony orchestra.Playing the Bizet was a West end band led by Andy Philip who also created the arrangements. Richard Black partnered the operas on keyboard. We divined a cast and crew of 30. Lead roles featured local and international talent: Rodney Earl Clarke, Brian Green, Louise Callinan, Tom Lowe, Eddie Muliaumaseali’i, Lori Isley Lynn, Rohan Reckord and Aivale Cole.
R’Otello underwent many personnel changes over a protracted period. It lay dormant for while, and besides the odd scrawling on a piece of scrap paper kick off didn't happen until July 2015. What began as a team which included a director/writer soon whittled down to me. I felt the pain and kept running. I don’t know why I did - but I did. I am near tears now, as I think of how close I was to throwing in the towel. I left R’Otello as a face book page which I would occasionally update, if I remembered - believing R’Otello would do what it needed to do when it needed to do it.
Meanwhile I kept making work. Kava Girls, my play with songs, got me to the Royal Court. I am new to writing and this gave me confidence.
We towered above expectation and shared miracles with our trust.
We became giants through this work.
Originally all I was going to do was to sing the role of Otello, (which is no mean feat!) and I ended up writing it. But it didn’t stop there, I had a writer, but no director. So I directed. I produced, choreographed, did the graphic design, cooked for the company and guided by lighting designer Dominic Warwick I ‘called the show’ during the performances. Necessity and passion can take you a long way.
The R’Otello company possessed a commitment to excellence that was inspirational
and a capacity for generosity that was exceptional: I witnessed the growth of the most important piece of the any venture, the people. We towered above expectation and shared miracles with our trust. We became giants through this work.
Malo le tau!
'R'Otello, the rugby opera'
written and directed by Sani Muliaumaseali’i
with the music of Verdi, Bizet & Puccini. presented by the GAFA ARTS COLLECTIVE (GAC) & Clearpoint
Lighting design: Dominic Warwick
Design: Kate Lane
Sound: Kevin Jianoran